Heights-area business owners distressed over repeated break-ins

Dozens of residents and business owners attended a town hall meeting hosted by Houston Police Chief regarding property crime in the Heights. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dozens of residents and business owners attended a town hall meeting hosted by Houston Police Chief regarding property crime in the Heights. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dozens of residents and business owners attended a town hall meeting hosted by Houston Police Chief regarding property crime in the Heights. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Owners of popular Houston bars and restaurants described repeated break-ins, expensive security measures and informal communication networks to report tips as efforts to curb persistent property crime.

They are now calling on Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo to do more to prevent the issue from escalating further.

Owner of Teaspresso Bar on North Shepherd Drive, Li Luong said at a town hall-style meeting Jan. 27 that despite her shop getting broken into five times in the last year and half, she has received little communication from the Houston Police Department.

‘I came in with an open mind, but I am even more frustrated because until now I didn’t even know we have investigators that follow up,” she said.

Acevedo hosted the meeting to specifically address concerns in the Heights and surrounding neighborhoods where business owners are documenting a rise in property crime. Owners representing Slowpokes, Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana, Hank’s Restaurant, Axelrad Beer Garden, Roost, Calle Onze, Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room, Baxter Development, Cuchara, Fluff Bake Bar and dozens of others were all present and sharing experiences with break-ins.


“We face a tremendous challenge in our city every day,” Acevedo said. “And the problem is twofold. One, the No. 1 issue from a mom and pop business’s perspective being able to prevent burglaries in the first place, is our police presence actually being out being visible ... the second is actually being able to investigate these things”

Business owners expressed frustration not only with frequent property crime but also with limited follow-up communication from Houston police officers and investigators. Acevedo said that lack of communication needs to be improved so victims of crimes know the status of their case and if an arrest has been made. He said in many cases, when an arrest is made the business owner may not find out.

Prominent restaurateur Bobby Heugel, who is behind bars such as Better Luck Tomorrow and Anvil, said he has always had pleasant interactions with police officers but rarely sees follow-up after a break-in.

“I operate nine to 10 restaurants in the city currently. In those nine to 10 restaurants, there's been growth over the past few years, where we've really seen an increase in break-ins, and I’ve had a detective reach out to me one time to write documentation,” Heugel said.

Acevedo told attendees of the meeting the main issues facing the Houston Police Department were understaffing, a disorganized system for collecting tips from crime victims and low visibility of officers patrolling high-crime areas.

Among ongoing efforts Acevedo committed to were advanced DNA tracking for scenes of property crime—previously reserved for violent crime; a more centralized system for victims to report crime details; and a more proactive approach to apprehending criminals, such as staking out hot spots and utilizing unmarked vehicles.

In some cases, he said further cooperation will be necessary among the Houston Police Department, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Harris County’s Constable’s Office. He said he plans to advocate to Mayor Sylvester Turner more funding for overtime between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Acevedo also said greater coordination would reduce strain on the Houston Police Department, which a 2016 independent consulting report found was understaffed by nearly 700 officers. He criticized Harris County’s ongoing reforms to its cash bail system saying it added to that strain.

“We’ve fallen in love with restorative justice, and I’m all for it, but the other piece we don’t control is what happens when we catch these criminals,” he said.

While he pledged to continue hosting town hall-style meetings to address the issue, many business owners said they are turning to expensive security measures and sharing stories via social media in the meantime.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.